Dear Editor

I asked my father why there's so much in the paper and on TV about Muammar Qaddafi right now, and he told me there's no such person, that he's just something the news people made up, like they did with Chad, to use on days when they ran out of other stories. My father said that's why they spell his name 26 different ways and carry so many stories about him during vacation season. Please tell me, is there a Muammar Qaddafi?

-- Alexandra Virginia

YES, VIRGINIA, there is a Muammar Qaddafi.

He's as real as gold braid and jet fighters and armored personnel carriers that go clank in the still desert night. He's as real as prisons and televised executions and preposterous territorial claims involving large bodies of water. His spirit lives in the heart of every national leader who calls himself the sun god Ra.

Not believe in Muammar Qaddafi? You might as well not believe in ayatollahs, or in strongmen, or in Russian advisers. You might as well not believe in diplomatic relations and sending pilots out to assert our presence in gulfs we've never heard of. Where would we be, Virginia, without Muammar Qaddafi to think of when we worried about what could happen if some dreadful weapon we'd just invented were to get into the wrong hands? Who else's could be so very clearly the wrongest hands of all?

And that's why, Virginia -- as long as we have V-8 engines and oil changes and air-conditioning in Dallas, and as long as there's somebody working hard in some stuffy little room to come up with an atomic bomb no larger than a basketball -- that's why we'll have Muammar Qaddafi to think about when we're lying awake at night listening for strange noises.